"Although mention has been made of supplies ferried in the 1840s from Fort Vancouver across the Columbia en route to the Willamette Valley – probably on the same crude log rafts that brought the settlers down from the Dalles and Cascades – no regular public ferry service was run by a white American until John Switzler Jr.’s in 1846. Switzer Jr., an 1845 immigrant from Virginia, settled on his land claim – present day Hayden Island – on the South Bank of the Columbia River opposite Fort Vancouver on the North Bank in September, 1846.
His first crude row ferry, probably equipped with a sail, was to carry mainly foot traffic of Oregonians trading at the HBC post. This ferry was run sporadically by Mr. Switzler Sr. and his sons for nearly a decade.
Although ferries on the Columbia should have some under federal regulation, a general act “of the Regulation of Ferries”, passed Jan. 27, 1854, makes no mention of such a thing. In 1854, The Washington Territory passed an act regulating governance of such craft. Patterned after the Oregon law, the law would be changed little over the next several years. Despite provision for local regulation, the territorial legislature granted many charters establishing many rates of ferriage – granting eleven authorizations from 1854 to 1859 and nine from 1865 to 1869.
Indeed, as early as 1850, Mr. Forbes Barclay licensed himself with the government to run a ferry upriver a short way from Vancouver at what was called the upper landing at the Indian Village.
On Jan. 19, 1885, [date in error ???] William Ryan was granted a franchise to establish a ferry in the same area. In 1851, on December 2nd, a license was “granted” to William Goodwin to establish a ferry from the head of Lady Island to above the mouth of the Washougal River. Other licenses granted in that period were to David C. Parker on June 10, 1854, for the same area; James Carty, on Lake River slough and O.W. Bozorth on the Cathlapoodle – present Lewis River – on March 7, 1855.
In 1855, with John Switzler Jr. taking over operation from his father, the Switzler ferry provided a more regular service for the next several years and was subject to some of the new licensing and regulations. On Jan. 19, 1885, a William Ryan was granted a franchise to establish a ferry in the same area.
On April 5, 1855, the county commissioners of Multnomah County established the following rates of ferriage across the Columbia River to Vancouver for the Switzler operation: “For each foot passenger 50 cents; man and horse $1.00; wagon and span $2.00; each additional animal 25 cents. Each cart of buggy and animal, $1.50; each head of horses or cattle 50 cents; each sheep or hog 25 cents; each hundred pounds of freight not on wagon, 25 cents.”
For these fees, Switzler was required to pay $10 per annum. To continue the trip from Vancouver to Switzler Island it was necessary to take the Love ferry across the Columbia Slough – also referred to at that time by the paradoxical name of Love’s Slough – to Portland. At that same meeting rates were set for Lewis Love as follows: “For wagon and animal 25 cents; man on horseback 10 cents; foot passenger 5 cents; loose animals 5 cents.” He was required to pay a fee of $5 a year.
$1.00 for a man and his team to be ferried across the Columbia and then an additional 25 cents to be ferried across the Slough seems a heavy fee for the times, but on July 3, 1855, Lewis Love made application for a new schedule of fees. “Foot passengers 12 cents; horse or mule 12 cents; man on horse 25 cents; wagon and one horse 37 cents; wagon with two horses 50 cents.” It was granted. Only July 31, 1855, John Switzler was allowed $250 for building a bridge along what was then known as the Columbia Bottoms.
After the Switzlers quit ferrying, Wesley Van Schuyver ran a service to the Oregon shore, charging fees of : $1 per person; $3 for man on horseback; $2 for horse, mule or cow; $3 for horse and wagon; and $6 for a team and wagon. Hogs and sheep did not carry such a lofty charge at only 24 cents each. Even at these prices – finding the run unprofitable – he discontinued it in a few months, after which there was no regular service across the Columbia at Vancouver for sixteen years.
In 1868, this lack of regular service was made apparent in the petition signing by some four hundred tax payers of Multnomah County begging “…their Commissioners to build a substantial plank road, above high water mark, between Love’s Slough and Switzler’s Landing on the Columbia River…” A preliminary agreement had been signed and entered into “…that a number of property holders in Vancouver and Clarke County pledge themselves to enter into bonds to the amount of $2,000, guaranteeing to build and maintain a good steam ferryboat on the Columbia River, to meet with the plank road, provided Multnomah County builds said road.” “Portland has given bonds to the amount of $250,000, not because she desires to make a display of her wealth or liberality, but in a wise consideration of her interests…” “Pleasure seekers should favor this scheme as it affords a much needed extension and variety to their present circumscribed limits for driving and pleasure seeking.”
“That Vancouver will eventually be a point of commercial importance, its peculiarly eligible situation, backed as it is by an abundance of the finest agricultural land, no reasonable man will for a moment doubt. Furthermore, the N.P.P.R. is sure to come down the Columbia, in order to gain the immense trade of the grain growing valleys of the upper country. Cheap overland travel helps a country in every way”
During this time steamboats took most all the traffic from Vancouver up the Willamette to Portland. As far back as 1850, Vancouver had been port for the little steamer “Columbia.” In 1854, the “Eagle,” a little iron propeller boat of ten tons that had been brought out around the Horn on the deck of a ship, was placed on the route between Portland and Vancouver. Under the command of Captain Woods, its fare was five dollars. In 1857, Vancouver became the terminus of a steamer operating on a regular schedule – the side-wheeler “Vancouver.” Beginning in 1870, and running for nearly a decade, the “Vancouver” made the run to Portland. She was joined by the “Wasp,” the “Carrie,” and “Oneota.” Several others were to follow in the years ahead."
Colleen Bauman, "Clark County History - Crossing the Columbia River", 1988, Published by Fort Vancouver Historical Society of Clark County, retrieved via "Columbian.com" website, 2016.